As one of the final steps before making a hiring decision, companies call a job candidate's professional references. The people you select as references should be knowledgeable about you, willing to speak positively about your work and aware that you are using them as references.
Your professional references should present a positive image of you to potential employers. When you are putting together your reference list for your job search, choose former bosses and co-workers who know you well and have good things to say about you. The references you select should have worked with you previously so they can speak honestly and accurately about your work.
You do not want your professional references to be overly enthusiastic, however. Potential employers expect references to have nothing but positive things to say, but their statements should sound sincere and not exaggerated.
Notify your contacts that you would like to use them as professional references. It is bad business etiquette to use someone as a professional reference without first asking his permission. Potential employers usually pick up on the fact that a reference was not expecting to be contacted, no matter how well the reference tries to cover. The more prepared your references are, the better they can represent you.
Not only do potential employers call the professional references you provide, but they also often call managers from your previous employers. Some businesses refuse to provide information about former employees, but others do. If your former employer might have less than excellent things to say about you, it cannot hurt to bring it up in the interview. This gives you the opportunity to frame the situation in a more positive light, thus diluting the damage of a negative reference from a former boss. You can also approach your former employer to negotiate language that will not have as negative an impact on your future job prospects.
If you are curious about what your professional references are saying about you, ask a friend or colleague to call them, ask for a reference and report back what was said. If you don't like what someone says, you can stop using that person as a reference for your job search or be prepared to explain why that reference has unfavorable things to say about you.
Potential employers speak to references to confirm what they are already thinking. If the references have good things to say, then a job offer often follows. It is important that the people you choose as professional references can honestly say good things about your work and are aware you are pressing them into service. Your references are your last chance to make an impression on a potential employer, so make sure it's a good one.
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